In this monthly feature, we span the globe to examine Our Changing Landscape with a time series of medium-resolution PlanetScope satellite imagery. The PlanetScope constellation dates back to 2016 and collects hundreds of millions of square kilometers of four and eight-band 3-meter imagery daily! In October, we looked at the accelerating glacier melt occurring off Devon Island in Baffin Bay, Canada. This month, we’re traveling to Maui, Hawaii to examine the devastating wildfires that recently swept through the Lahaina area.
The PlanetScope Microsat Constellation
PlanetScope is a constellation of more than 240 microsats (as of January 2022) referred to individually as Doves. Each Dove is able to collect up to 20,000 square kilometers (sq km) per day of 3-meter (m) 4-band multispectral (i.e. blue, green, red and near-infrared [NIR]) imagery; and newly launched SuperDoves collect 8-band multispectral adding in valuable red-edge spectral data. Across the constellation, PlanetScope is archiving more than 200 million sq km of medium-resolution imagery a day, making it the go to source for daily imagery over most locations. This massive archive dates back to 2016, offering the most complete and continuous record of spatial data on the planet since the start of the constellation’s ongoing launch schedule. Collecting 3-meter multispectral imagery is the equivalent of ‘high-resolution’ multispectral data imaged by a 75-centimer (cm) satellite (as this satellite would feature 75-cm panchromatic and 3-m multispectral), making PlanetScope an extremely competitively priced option at just $2.25 per sq km. With well registered images and nearly daily collections of most locations, PlanetScope is the ideal imagery source for this current-events focused series, Our Changing Landscape.
August 2023 Lahaina, Maui Wildfires
In early August of 2023, the serene paradise of Maui, Hawaii was marred by catastrophic wildfires which left an unfolding disaster in their wake. The Lahaina fires started on the morning of the 8th, when a brush fire, likely started by a downed power line and fanned by nearly 80 mile per hour winds from Hurricane Dora, spread into the town. Because of the winds, the wildfire grew quickly in both size and intensity, hundreds of homes burned in minutes. The downed power lines also created roadblocks around the town of Lahaina, essentially barricading the citizens into the inferno.
There is suspicion that the blaze spread so quickly partially due to the neglected, non-native grasslands that surrounded Lahaina. The grasses are relics from abandoned farms and sugarcane fields, which have been left to run amok despite knowledge that the dried vegetation acts as fodder to fires. According to Major General Kenneth Harra, the commander of the Hawaii Army National guard, the island was already in a “red flag” situation with drought-like conditions, before the brush fires began. This, in addition to the hurricane-strength winds which downed power lines and created numerous brush fires, caused the blazes to spread voraciously.
The conflagrations killed at least 114 people and left 285 more missing in the town of Lahaina alone. Hawaii Governor Josh Greed said there was “very little left” of Lahaina after the fires, and more than 2,700 structures were destroyed. With the death toll at over 100, and expected to keep rising, the Maui wildfire ranks among the top 10 deadliest wildfires in the United States. In an attempt to help identify the dead and to get word to families who are anxiously awaiting word about their loved ones, Maui officials are turning to rapid DNA-testing.
As of September 5th, the Lahaina fires are 100% contained, but the burn area is restricted to authorized personnel only. Federal agencies are working to remove ash and debris, which could take months. Residents of burn areas have been advised to drink only bottled water or water provided by tankers until further notice.
Our PlanetScope images this month show the Lahaina area of Maui before and after the blazes. As you can see from the animation, the devastation is complete and catastrophic. In the aftermath of the fires, Maui is working hard to provide shelter, food, and medical/mental healthcare to the survivors of the fire. The island community has a long road ahead of them to recover the from the devastation of the fires. If you would like to walk alongside the islanders in their time of need, donations toward recovery efforts can be made here. And now it is time to pivot to the 3-meter PlanetScope archive to see the extent of the devastation left behind by the August 2023 Maui wildfires.
If you would like to find out more about using 3-meter PlanetScope imagery for your academic studies, engineering projects or any landscape analysis, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org or (303) 993-3863.